Monday, September 27, 2010

Lion hunting

Because the landscape at the Sosian Ranch is so rustic and finding animals isn't as easy as in the plains, their neighbors had put tracking devices on the wild dogs and lions.  The neighbor's reason for the tracking device is for scientific purposes. Sosian's reason for the tracking device is to find the animals for their guests.

My second night there, Steve and Albie (the guides) took Vanessa, Anne, Matt and me (the guests) on a lion hunt. We drove along the dirt roads while Albie held the antenna and listened to the beeps coming from a signaling device.  The closer we got the the animal, the faster the beeps came.  This is how the hunting went... Albie listening and Steve driving down the dirt road, with the rest of us sitting in anticipation, knowing we were getting closer and closer with every turn of the wheels.  And then... we stopped.

The next few seconds happened in such quick succession it's as if my mind was too slow to capture it all.  Albie handed off the signaling device to Steve, and picked up a 325 caliber rifle as both opened their perspective doors and stepped out.  It's one of those moments you wish you were seated in a stadium with the giant screens showing an instant replay in slow motion, because you weren't certain you saw the play correctly.  At least, that's how the four of us sat... in shock and confusion.  Unsure of what had just happened and what was going on, eager for an explanation.  When Steve told us all to get out of the car, our response was in unison:  "wait...what?"

See, the thing about the tracking device is, although it beeps faster the closer you get to the animal, it doesn't give an exact distance.  Meaning, you never know if the animal is 5 feet or 50 feet in front of you.  You just know that it's really close.

Wary, we stepped out.  We looked at eachother with wide eyes.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one who's heart started beating just a bit faster.   And wouldn't you know it, but the first thing we did was walk through grass that was knee high.  I kept thinking: "DIDN'T THEY EVER SEE THE LION KING??"  You know, the part where Simba's dad is teaching him to hunt, so they get really, really, low in the high grass in order to keep their prey unsuspecting until the last moment,... when they pounce!

So I grabbed my camcorder and had it rolling. If I was going down because of a lion, I wanted the video played at my funeral.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best. Breakfast. Ever.

It's not that the food was beyond anything I've ever eaten before... although, it was good.  It was the free entertainment that accompanied it that set the meal above any other that I have ever had. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Acrophobia: fear of heights

At 16 while training to become a lifeguard, I had made a comment to my trainer about the distance between the lifeguard stand and the diving pool.  To be honest, I was a bit afraid that if anyone was in need of my lifesaving skills, and I was required to jump from the stand into the pool, I wouldn't make it.  I could see myself jumping and skimming the edge of the pool, hurting myself - which would make me unable to perform my ever important duties of saving someone from a watery grave.

She took my comment as though I was afraid of heights- which, in fact, was also true.  But since I'm speaking honestly here, saying I have a fear of heights is an understatement. It's beyond a fear... and I don't even know if there's a word for that. 

But to squelch my trepidation, she decided I should jump off the high dive ...a 10 foot drop into the water.  Fear jolted through me as I climbed the ladder to the top.  My heart rate increased as I slowly made my way to the edge of the board.  And before I was given the OK to jump, I was breathing so deeply I thought I'd make myself pass out.  But I did it.  I jumped.  And I felt so relieved to have it over with, until my head came back out of the water and my trainer was shaking her head and stated, "no, no, no... you closed your eyes! You ALWAYS have to keep your eyes on the victim until the very last second you reach the water. Now jump again, but this time: keep your eyes on me."

So I did. And I kept my eyes on her, until half way through when I was asked by her co-trainer to look at him... and I did.  I came out of the water to the sound of rolling laughter.  Between laughs they were able to get out the words "you know...ha ha...the wall  clock...ha ha...that looks like a cat...ha ha...with the big eyes that move back and forth?  Ha ha... you looked exactly like it... ha ha!"  But at least I pacified them and didn't have to jump again. 

My real concern, however, wasn't even met.  If the need ever arose that I'd have to jump off the lifeguard stand, I didn't know if I could leap far enough out to hit the water before inevitably hitting my head on the cement.  See, as afraid as I am of heights, that fear is increased ten fold when lateral distance is involved. Thankfully, no one ever came close to drowning on my watch.

Age hasn't diminished my fear, even in the slightest degree. But when I neared the waterfall, located on the Sosian Ranch property, I wasn't going to let it stop me from jumping.  My entire trip to Africa was about reinventing my independence.  Breaking out of the shells of fear I protect myself with.  Becoming a new, fearless, woman... one able to conquer anything she sets her mind to.

The waterfall is 30 feet high. Three times the distance from the high dive I jumped half a lifetime ago.  But I paid it no mind as a group of us climbed the cliff leading to it. It wasn't until we reached the top that my heart started racing.  We walked across rocks in the river as water rushed around our feet and over the edge we were making our way towards.  Two brothers, who were barely teenagers, urged me to jump first.  I couldn't do it.  So I watched as their little bodies flew over the ledge and into the water below.  I continued watching as two other people made the plunge.

But when I could use the excuse of waiting for others no longer, I stood paralyzed.  It was if I was 16 years old all over again, on the lifeguard stand forced to jump.  My feet were planted on the small rock that served as a platform, too small to provide a running jump (or even a large step for momentum) over the rocky ledge that protruded out a few feet below.

I continued to stand,  unable to move.  All I could think about was hitting my head on the way down and not making it to my 30th birthday the next day.  I looked down at the four people happily waiting for me below.  I looked over at the two behind me that wouldn't jump until I did, to make sure I landed safely.  And I stayed that way for 5 minutes. 

My hands became numb and tingly.  My knees started to buckle underneath me.  I had to hold on to the rocky shelf for support.  I couldn't get myself to do it.  I couldn't get myself to jump.  Finally, everyone decided to encourage me by counting down from 10.  The entire time I gave myself a mental pep talk, and when they reached "1", I found myself free falling in the air. 

I did it... and I was no longer that scared 16 year old girl, afraid she wouldn't make it to her 30th birthday the next day. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Luxury location

My travel agent had provided me with two accommodation suggestions in her initial email to me.  One was a luxury lodge and the other a luxury tent.  She mentioned I could stay at one or the other, or possibly both, for the duration of my stay.  There's no way I could have chosen between the two - and I'm so grateful I didn't - so I split my time in half.  Three days were spent in the Sosian Ranch and three in the Offbeat Mara Camp.  Both were so completely different, inside and out, that it felt I was on two separate vacations.

Sosian Ranch located at red dot
Sosian is located in Kenya's Laikipia region, right on the equator.  The elevation is high enough that its geographic coordinates barely play a roll in its temperature.  Even the equatorial neighbor, Mt. Kenya, has stumped scientists with its snow covered peak.  During the days the weather was warm enough to wear summer clothing, in the evenings the temperatures dropped to the point of needing long pants and a jacket.

The landscape was just as diverse as the weather.  It was green and lush, with rolling hills in some areas, rocks that shot out of nothing in others.  There were rivers and waterfalls, forests and prairies, and bushes everywhere. Due to all of the above, animals aren't overly abundant, however there are diverse species of animals not found in other areas of the world.

Grevy's Zebra
The Grevy's zebra, for example, is only found in northern Kenya.  Unlike their brother, the common zebra, Grevy's are taller, have rounder ears, and stripes that are so close together you could mistake the zebra for a bar code.  They also happen to be my new favorite.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

from an email to my family

Saturday 14 August 2010

I'm at a loss for words, this has been the most incredible experience so far, and I've only been in Kenya for 8 hours.  Once I arrived at the airport, looked around, saw the in airport mosque, and the dilapidated building, I had a split second thought of : "I'm in Kenya... alone... what was I thinking??"  But that thought went as quickly as it came.

I made it through customs (receiving my visa on arrival), and got my bags all within a 45 min time frame.  My driver was waiting for me as I stepped out to the lobby. He drove me over to the Wilson airport, which isn't an airport by any western civilization's standard.  It's comprised of a number of small buildings, each building (which may contain 2 rooms) is for a separate airline.  I was told by my travel agent that I'd get the flight tickets, etc, on arrival, so I thought my driver would have it.  (Logically).  But no.  He dropped me off at Air Kenya and said that they'd take care of me. But when I went to check in (with a man standing behind a desk made of plywood), he said I needed to be at Safarilink airlines, based on the itinerary my travel agent gave me.  So, someone walked me over to the next building and handed me off.  After my bags and I made it through the security checkpoint (which is all there was inside the Safarilink "airport"), a Safarilink representative and I came to realize that something wasn't right since my name wasn't on their passenger list.

I was driven over to the main office, where a guy tried figuring everything out for me, told me not to worry and to come back in an hour.  (My flight wasn't scheduled to leave for 2.5 hrs - per my itinerary).  Thankfully I had a contact name on said itinerary, and the airline rep made numerous calls to her.  Finally (without a moment to spare and an hour before the flight I thought I was scheduled for) they figured out that I was in fact supposed to be on an Air Kenya flight. I was driven over to the correct building by a guy who was in no hurry and made conversation with every person we passed.  The Air Kenya representative apologized for the inconvenience caused due to the initial confusion.  He asked me if my bags had already gone through security at Safarilink.  When I told him it had, he smiled, said OK, and took my bags directly to the plane without passing them through security there.  I went to the reception desk, and was greeted with more apologies and my correct itinerary for the remainder of my stay.  I quickly passed security and walked out to the small 12 seater plane just as it was boarding.

But, the thing is:  everyone was SO kind.  SO helpful.  I don't think I've met people as kind as this before.  Part of me wonders if it's because it's their culture, or if it's because they work off of tips.  I'd like to think it's the first.  And not once did I feel stressed or worried at all.  I knew they'd take care of me and get things settled.  Which is so unlike what normally happens on a trip I take.

The plane ride was so neat, we landed in a small city called Nanyuki, where the airport was a landing strip and a few small shacks.  I was greeted by one of my guides from the Sosian Ranch who was also my driver.  He's a walking encyclopedia.  On our 2 hr drive to Sosian I saw dik-dik's (the smallest relative of the antelope), giraffe, zebra, ostrich, wart hogs, and elephants!  And I wasn't even on a real game drive.  It was awesome.

As soon as I arrived at Sosian, the owner, Annabell, greeted me at the door, took me in and showed me around the breathtaking ranch.  She then took me to my cottage... and ho-ly cow.  It's spectacular!  I kept wanting to pinch myself.  THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! 

I had lunch with Annabell near the pool - and it was a feast.  She said we'll have tea and cake around 4 which is only 2 hours later.  I don't know if my stomach will have space.  I'm going to get fat here.  But after tea we'll go on a game drive, eat dinner in the bush, then have a night drive on the way back to the lodge.

I'm in love with Africa.  Seriously.  Maybe I'll stay...

Friday, September 3, 2010

7 years in the making

When I was 23 years old I had decided with a friend that if we were both still single at 30 we would go backpacking across Europe together.  One year later she was married... and I wasn't surprised.  I held fast to my promise though, because just like the feeling I had that day, 7 years ago, that she wouldn't make it to 30 without being married, I had a similar feeling that I would make it. When she married, I resolved to go backpacking alone when the fateful day arrived that I turned 30 and single.

Four years later I was presented with the opportunity to move to Amsterdam.  I was elated!  But also left with a new decision to make... because if I were to live in Europe, and travel around Europe, there would be no excitement in backpacking across Europe.  I had to do something bigger and better.  Something that would exceed the culture, history, and richness that Europe has to offer.  I had to go on a safari... alone.

Last year the search for the perfect safari began. I scoured the internet for hours on end, finally happening upon a website I thought was awesome. Truly... it was.  That's all it took to sell me on their services.  After a few emails back and forth with my new found travel agent, we determined that Kenya would be the perfect birthday safari destination, since the wildebeest migration was in its prime in August.  Then to add to my already heightened excitement, I was able to avoid all single supplement fees since I booked nearly a year and a half in advance.

When the time arrived that I finally sat down on the plane leaving for Kenya, I thought back to that day, 7 years prior.  It was hard to believe our pact was made so long and so many adventures ago... because, really, those few years felt only like a few days.